Did The Harvard Law School Dean Defame a Student?

From The Weekly Standard:

Late last month, controversy erupted at Harvard Law School after a private email written in November was leaked to the law school community. In it, a third year student, clarifying her views after a dinner conversation with two close friends, explained to them that she wanted to understand the science and research on whether intelligence may have a genetic component and whether African Americans may be “less intelligent on a genetic level.”

Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow promptly responded by issuing a statement condemning the email and reminding students and faculty that the right to free speech comes with responsibilities. Unfortunately, the dean also reinforced the most common and serious prejudice at American universities today, which targets those who think, or who merely wish to examine critically, nonconforming or disfavored thoughts.

Dean Minow’s statement, moreover, failed to honor the scholar’s duty to restate accurately a view one is criticizing. According to Minow, the student’s email “suggested that black people are genetically inferior to white people.” That’s an incendiary revision.

What the student actually wrote is that she couldn’t “rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.” Then, in the very next sentence, she entertained the possibility that there is no genetic variation in intelligence between the races: “I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances.” The student went on to speculate that “cultural differences” are probably “the most important sources of disparate test scores.” And the student elaborated at length an argument from Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy that in the student’s judgment deftly showed, despite the absence of “quantifiable data,” that racial disparities for violent crimes were rooted in culture. In sum, the student clearly expressed the desire to set aside conclusions of the heart, and instead examine the scientific data and consider reasoned analysis concerning the genetic basis of intelligence.

Minow’s rewriting of the after-dinner email, however, turned the student’s competing hypotheses and interest in the scientific evidence into a crude racist claim about people’s relative moral worth. Unless, perhaps, Dean Minow assumes that interest in some empirical propositions is inherently racist. Or was it the dean’s even more illiberal and antidemocratic assumption that human moral worth is a function of IQ that justified her condemnation of the student?

You can see what happened here. A law student, in private correspondence, was tracking down every logical trail in her examination of an issue. She was probably arguing back and forth with someone, and went down a trail of argument that she did not believe in, really, and just spouted off what came to mind.

Comments are closed.